Conservative Theology

September 17, 2008

Religion and Science / The UMC Clergy Letter Endorsement

I was disappointed to see that, among other things, the UMC (United Methodist Church) officially endorsed the Clergy Letter Project.

This is just a monumentally stupid thing to do.  I'm glad I am no longer officially associated with the Methodist Church.  Let's take a look at the letter:

"Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth."

Agreed.

"Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts."

Disagree.  Another purpose is also to show God's action within history.  To solely put scripture in the "transform hearts" category is to do it twice the injustice as treating it as a scientific textbook.

"believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist"

Somewhat agree.  The problem is that it is a blanket statement about science.  Which is somewhat stupid considering that (a) science has social and theological underpinnings, just like everything else, and (b) science is always changing.  To make a blanket endorsement all of science is idiotic - there's plenty of junk science going on.  But who is to distinguish?  Are theologians allowed to distinguish?  If so, then they have contradicted the purpose of their statement.  If not, then they have voluntarily let themselves be held hostage by a different authority which does not necessarily hold to their assumptions, which is a monumentally stupid mistake.

"We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests."

Which part of evolutionary theory?  Abiogenesis?  Descent from a common ancestor?  Lamarckianism?  Natural selection?  Their lack of specificity tells us either (a) they really don't know what they are talking about, and just want to "look scientific", or (b) they are being intentionally vague so as to not invite scrutiny.  If they just said, "many people in science use an evolutionary paradigm", well, that's obviously true.  But it isn't obviously true that it is foundational for any experimental science, or anything which forms the basis of engineering.  In fact, the opposite seems to be the case.

"To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children"

This is the real rough statement.  The problem with this is that it is the equivalent of the Church's teaching with regard to Gallileo.  The Church had made its peace with the science of the day - how dare someone try to oppose it!  It's one thing for a Church to allow, even explicitly allow, various views, but this actually calls people names.  I'm curious if they allowed a discussion of the evidence before making this, and invited opposing scientists to make their claims?  If not, then the Church is dealing more in scientific ignorance than the people they claim to be opposing, because it dismissed ideas without examining their merits.  Also, as was pointed out earlier, their vagueness regarding what part of evolutionary theory they are talking about makes this just a bunch of authoritarian garbage.

"We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought"

Agreed.

"the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator."

Somewhat agreed.  You could take this too far and say that everyone should be an academic.  I wouldn't agree with that.  I also don't believe in the academic culture's superiority-mindedness which thinks that those who aren't academics must simply take the word of the academics on all things.

What is left out of this discussion of mind, however, is that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  What does it mean to love God?  For one thing, it means submission to Him, and recognition that He is loving, He is powerful, and that He is wise.  Our wisdom is foolishness in His sight.  Therefore, the life of our mind should be first characterized by submission to God, and not to submission to man.  There is certainly disagreement on what submitting my mind to God looks like, but the UMC wants me to submit my mind first to modern science.  Otherwise they would be making a theological case for evolution, not a scientific one.

"To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris."

No one in Creation is limitting God.  What we are doing is listening to what He has said about what He did.  It is the evolutionists who are limitting God, by only allowing God to work through secondary causes, no matter what He has said about how He works.

"We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge."

If by "core component of human knowledge" it simply means "what most academics are thinking today", then I actually have no problem with this statement.  I think evolutionary theory should be taught to everyone.

"We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth."

The NOMA principle is simply false.  If Christianity says anything whatsoever about reality or history, then NOMA is invalid.  And, last I checked, Christianity was primarily rooted in the history of God's actions in Creation, and therefore is an invalid principle specifically regarding Christianity.  Many scientists who espouse NOMA know this, and just use NOMA to keep outsiders from asking too many pesky questions.

To show you how dumb the endorsement of the Clergy Letter Project by denominations is, let me show why the opposite would also be eggregiously dumb.  Let's say that a fundamentalist denomination wanted to support Creationism.  The worst theing they could possibly do is to point to the Creation Research Society, AiG, or some body of Creation Science knowledge, and declare this to be the standard that all Christians should believe.  I'm a member of CRS, I like AiG, and I contribute to the body of Creation Science knowledge.  Howver, the problem is that all of these are still man's opinions.  Our standard is Scripture, which leaves a lot of details out.  For a denomination to essentially mandate or endorse a set of non-Biblical details is horrendously foolish.  I teach Creation in churches.  But I think it would be foolhardy to elevate anything that I teach to the level that the UMC has raised evolutionary theory.

September 06, 2008

Religion and Science / The Theology of the Bacterial Flagellum

JB

Many people think that science is done in a theological vacuum.  However, it is not.  Take for instance, a recent paper on the flagellum - Coordinating assembly of a macromolecular machine:

Finally, it seems that the bacterial flagellum is a structure of great complexity. In an attempt to understand why, it is not necessary to resort to intelligent designers, because surely a designer would have fashioned a simpler structure and gene regulation system. We only need to be reminded that evolution demands that changes occur on the existing structure — no starting from scratch. It is fair to say that we are at long last making a dent in our understanding of how this evolutionary process might have occurred for the reducibly complex bacterial flagellum and the beautiful result it has produced.

So, the reason we are not resorting to design is not because it doesn't evidence design, but rather because a designer would not have done it this way!  That is a statement of both theology and engineering that the authors have no grounds to say.

Here's an article on the flagellum:

Is the flagellar motor unique?

Yes and no. As a device that powers flagellar rotation, yes. As a device composed of rings, rods, and external filaments, no. There is a homologous structure, called the needle structure, assembled by the same kind of transport apparatus, used by pathogenic species (such as Salmonella) to inject virulence factors into eukaryotic cells. Some argue that the flagellar rotary motor evolved from the needle structure, but it was probably the other way around,
since flagellated bacteria existed long before their eukaryotic targets. Perhaps they evolved from a common ancestor. What was the rotary motor doing before the helical propeller was invented, if indeed that was the order of events? Serving as a secretory apparatus that acquired the ability to spin? Packaging polynucleic acids into virus heads? Food for thought.

 So now, not only is the flagellum IC, but even the supposed "precursor systems" don't make sense until long after the flagellum supposedly developed.  What we are finding, over and over, is that there is no such thing as a simple life form.  Therefore, we can conclude that those who view evolution as progressing from simple to complex are doing so because of theological commitments, not because of evidence.  I have no problem with people engaging in science from theological commitments (it's actually impossible not to), I just wish they would admit it.